Introduction: Cloud Mine: Digital Sky Captures to CNC Knitting - Part 1 (Inspiration)

The purpose of this three part Instructable is to shed some light on the process of designing and creating garments.

My job as a designer is to celebrate the preciousness of life with a specified culture in mind, using the elements of idealized form (body), color, pattern, and adornment. No one ever wrote this job description on paper for me, this is just what I've learned from a decade of work.

I come from a collaborative background (theater/performing arts), and because of this I prefer to work with a group of creative individuals. At this point in my career I also enjoy leading. That is, sometimes I like to follow my own creative vision instead of making someone else's vision a reality. I'm a mature maker. I've made a lot of other people's dreams a reality. So many that you might call me a dreamweaver. There comes a point in everyone's life, I think, where their dream becomes the focal point. This seems like one of those moments for me.

Being a designer is strange, because in many ways I create one element of reality that helps others to successfully play their roles in the theater that is life (remember the words of Willy Shakespeare "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players..."). Because of this role as a costumer of life - because I get to see behind the curtain, as it were, I've rarely belonged to one social group. Instead, I immerse myself in culture after culture and learn their customs and ways of communicating so I can help them express their idealizations.

It is up to the designer to become familiar with the culture they want, or are asked, to represent. I try to take in as many elements about a culture as possible and channel that into something beautiful that encapsulates the feeling of the moment.

Many designers have a signature, that is to say, all of their garments look like they belong to each other, yet are different from already available clothing. This is important. It's also important to know who you are if you want to design clothes, otherwise you'll just end up copying others an never amount to more than a knockoff artist, which is, as it happens, perfectly acceptable (and also highly profitable) in this industry. But if you do this you'll also never learn what unique song you were meant so sing on this planet.

Fashion, like many art forms, can function on a variety of levels. Fashion can be highly functional (a work apron for example), or highly decorative (a handmade garment created with alternative materials that isquite unrealistic for everyday wear), it really just depends on what the members of a given group want, and how that intersects with your vision. Fashion can reference the past and envision the future simultaneously, all while using the body as canvas.

In this first instructable I will describe how I follow your inspiration and discover, cultivate, and enhance this creative vision. In the second instructable I will describe my design process (how I make choices about what to make), and in the final instructable I will show you the work I did to turn my creative choices into a dress. I chose to work with a Stoll, computer controlled (CNC) flat bed knitting machine, because there is a unique link between textile work and computers that I want to highlight.

Most of the work I do involves listening, watching, and considering the ideas of the people from my team and letting their insights and experiences guide my process. I try to make decisions while considering the resources available (money, materials, equipment, and labor); collective vision; and time. As Raf Simmons of Dior puts it, "Fashion is such an octopus. You're connected to so many people..." This is not work that is done alone.

Step 1: Find Your Obsession

Since fashion, and much of visual art, is all about looking I sometimes check in with my repetitive thoughts to determine the direction that my creativity needs to flow. This is not true in all instances, but it's true sometimes. I also sometimes use my emotions as a guide, which creates very different results. When you find something that you can't stop thinking about, it's probably a good idea to focus your attention on it, if nothing more than to satisfy your own curiosity and to discover what's on the other side.

For the past year or so I've been looking to the heavens, I'm sharing a smattering of photos from my smart phone as proof. This will be the starting inspiration point for this project.

Step 2: Find Supporting Materials

Once I've found a theme that I'd like to explore I like to do some research. I wouldn't call what I do scientific, but it gets me the information I need to look at something from a few different perspectives. Explore the world and see what you find. You never know what might relate to what you've been doing and how that might inspire you. Remember, everything connects eventually.

I like to explore the thematic terrain over many disciplines. Literature, music, religion, paintings, photography, video, education, philosophy, and whatever else I may be attracted to. I want to know what the world has already said about the topic so I can say something new.

The next steps will feature the ideas I was most attracted to while thinking about this garment and the sky in the context of my residency at Autodesk.

Step 3: Technology

Since I'm working at Autodesk, a place that focuses on envisioning and rendering material realities (in a very virtual way, interestingly enough) I feel it necessary to explore questions around how our material and lived realities are being affected by the increased digitization of our lives, and the constant availability of that information to the general public.

And speaking of the sky, in the past several years the notion of cloud computing has become a popular one.

Our lives are carried out on our computers and mobile phones, and we are able to access very important data about our who we are, our habits, our money, and our families from anywhere in the world. Our very selves have been uploaded to a worldwide accessible network, reducible at some level to a series of 1's and 0's. We have programmed our very beings into this network. It's fascinating, and even scary to think about at times.

Will the proliferation of material products even be necessary as we enter this highly virtual age? What are we gaining? What are we losing? Where are we going? How are these changes affecting our identities? How are they affecting the way we work and move around in the world?

Step 4: Video

Several pieces of artwork I've made utilize grid-like structures, photomosaics, and image tiling. A friend who knew this about me posted Ken Murphy's A History of the Sky to my Facebook page many years ago, and I'm deciding to use it as an important reference point for this project.

The beautiful video is a 365 day time-lapse of the sky, taken from the Exploratorium's rooftop.

Give it a watch!

Step 5: Poetry + Writing

Sometimes I find supporting inspiration from poems or other written materials. Here is one that I like for this project. I found it many years ago, but never found a reason to use it until now.

HAD I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

— [S]He Wishes for The Cloths of Heaven, William Butler Yeats

Step 6: Music

Enjoy this heavenly selection by Belinda Carlisle.

Heaven Is A Place on Earth

When the night falls down

I wait for you

And you come around

And the world's alive

With the sound of kids

On the street outside

When you walk into the room

You pull me close and we start to move

And we're spinning with the stars above

And you lift me up in a wave of love...

Ooh, baby, do you know what that's worth?

Ooh heaven is a place on earth

They say in heaven love comes first

We'll make heaven a place on earth

Ooh heaven is a place on earth

When I feel aloneI reach for you

And you bring me home

When I'm lost at seaI hear your voice

And it carries me

In this world we're just beginning

To understand the miracle of living

Baby I was afraid before

But I'm not afraid anymore

Ooh, baby, do you know what that's worth?

Ooh heaven is a place on earth

They say in heaven love comes first

We'll make heaven a place on earth

Ooh heaven is a place on earth

Step 7: Art

I had the pleasure of meeting Diane Rosenblum a couple of months ago, right around the time I began working with these themes.

She did a very interesting project called Clouds for Comment where she posted photographs of the sky on various social media sites, like Flickr. Then she allowed folks to make comments about her photographs, and integrated these comments into her photos. The social commentary is both humorous and profound.

You can see a selection of her works above, and at the beginning of this Instructable.

Very beautiful and inspirational work.

Step 8: Museums

It is also a great idea to visit museums and other culture preserving institutions to find objects that will help you create the best, most up-to-date, version of your vision. There is no need to make anything that has been made before, so being familiar with all that has come before you is important so that you can truly discover something new.

I visited the Museum of Computer History (among others in California and NYC), in Mountain View, California at the suggestion of one of the guests that critiqued my project during reviews held at Autodesk.

A few photos from my trip to that museum can be seen above.

Step 9: Keep This in Mind.

With all of this juicy information in my back pocket, making decisions about how to design this garment will be easy.

I hope you've enjoyed seeing a bit of my inspiration and research process.

As a side note, not all of the research work happens at the beginning. I usually start working on some aspect of the project, and continue to do more investigating as I go along. It's usually not a linear process, but for the purpose of the intractable I will present my process as if it were. There are often starts, stops, backtracking, and reconfigurations. Try to enjoy your process and where it takes you!

Stay tuned for the next instructable!